Sep 222014


Time to Show Us Your Stuff: Austin County Wine Show & Non-Commercial Competition

Are you an non-commercial or amateur wine maker? Well, show us your stuff. This is a professionally judged competition that will give you a side-by-side comparison of how your wines stack up versus other wines.

The annual Austin County Wine Show and noncommercial wine competition will be held October 11, 2014, at the Turnverein Building, Austin County Fairgrounds, Bellville, Texas. There is no charge for entry, and you may enter as many wines as you wish, but you will have to pay the entry fee to the fairgrounds to submit your wines for competition.

Click here for the competition rules and entry form. Wines can be entered into the following classifications:

  • Red Wine – Dry
  • Red Wine – Sweet
  • White Wine – Dry
  • White Wine – Sweet
  • Fruit/Berry
  • Dessert/Port Style
  • Kit Wine/Non-TX Grapes
  • Native/Mustang Grapes
  • Blush

Entries must be check in from 2-3 pm on the day of the show (October 11, 2014) and the judging will begin promptly at 3 pm. After the judging, entrants and the public will be invited to a tasting and the awards ceremony.

For other information on the Austin County Fair, go to

Hope to see you there!

 Posted by at 3:26 pm
Sep 132014


Llano Estacado Winery’s Best Wines Keep Coming: Viviano and 1836

While many of the recent accolades for the Texas wine industry have come from relative newcomers with boutique wineries, it’s good to see that long established Texas wineries continue to define quality and character of some of Texas’s finest wines and get them into distribution around the state. In this regard, Llano Estacado Winery needs to be singled out as being one of the first modern-day Texas wineries (established in 1976), the largest premium winery in Texas, and a winery that almost 40 years from its inception keeps offering wines that can compete in the super-premium category nationally.

Llano Estacado Winery’s Executive Winemaker and V.P. Greg Bruni is a leader in these quality efforts since he came to make Texas wines after leaving a successful winemaking career in California. Greg, winemaker Chris Hull and their winemaking crew continue to bring home awards with their wines, several of which were recently called out in major International wine competitions. Two of these wines also acknowledge this state’s 2010 grape harvest that I feel will be long recognized as one of the best of all time in Texas.

According to Greg Bruni, “The clear message I would like to send to Texas wine drinkers is that in my opinion the 2010 vintage in Texas was an excellent one for red grape maturation particularly in our Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Syrah grapes from the west Texas and high plains vineyard. In my 20-years as a Texas winemaker, vintages vary in their ability to produce fruit of optimal maturity, but 2010 was one of the years where exceptional grape quality was broadly achieved.”

You may ask why are we discussing the 2010 vintage when it’s now 2014. That’s four years later. Well, Llano Estacado is just now releasing some of the Best-of-the-Best wines they have from the 2010 vintage.

Greg continued, “So the short answer is this exceptional grape quality from the 2010 vintage has allowed us to achieve our quality target for our super-premium wines. In response, we let these wines barrel age beyond our normal 24 to 36-month and even 40-month protocols.”

Personally, I’m always leary of over-oaking wines, particularly Texas wines as it tends to degrade the fresh, fruit character Texas wines can offer. But, in this case, I’ll admit that for the following two wines from Llano Estacado and the 2010 vintage, the proof is in the tasting.

2010 Llano Estacado “1836”, Texas

Those of you that got some of the 2008 vintage of this wine won’t need much prompting here. It’s a classic Cabernet-Syrah blend, just a smidgen heavier on the Cab, but it would take a chemist to determine that. So, let’s just call it a 50:50 blend made from Texas High Plains and what Bruni calls is West Texas “desert” grapes. This wine brings lusciously opaque red-black color and ripe dark fruit characteristics. The barrel treatment acknowledges the special quality of the fruit with extended 28-month aging in French and American oak barrels. The tannic structure of this wine is a great match for the wine’s heavy extraction and presence in the glass and will make this wine last years if properly cellared.

This “1836” (San Francisco International Wine Competition Double Gold Winner) while aimed at “On Premise” accounts (like major restaurants), is a great find if you are lucky enough to locate a restaurant serving it. I will try to follow up with some advice on this. Perhaps, some of this wine might find it’s way into retail stores as did its 2008 predecessor.

2010 Llano Estacado Viviano, Texas

As most of you already know, I’ve been a fan of Llano’s red Viviano blend for years. The winemaking team at Llano Estacado do now make this wine every year, it’s saved for the really fine vintages when the opportunity presents itself. Well, 2010 was it for Viviano and I believe that this is one of the best Viviano’s Llano Estacado has released. For me it’s the wine’s combination of dark berries and tart red fruits that comes from this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (70:30 blend). The wine exudes month watering fruit even after 43 months of oak aging. Yes, that’s right – 43 months (I checked to make sure it wasn’t a typo in the release materials). The complexity of this wine is enhanced by the time in barrel to provide a long list of secondary spicy and aromatic characteristics. It also has a firm but quite pleasant tannic structure that pairs well with grilled meats and game that also bodes well for it’s longer term aging potential.

More information on these and other premium wines from Llano Estacado Winery is available online at:


 Posted by at 9:49 am
Sep 042014


If you are a Texas wine lover, here is your chance to meet-up with other Texas wine aficionados. Jessica Dupuy, Denise Clarke, Daniel Kalada, Jeff Cope and I welcome you to join us starting Tuesday September 16 at 7 pm Central. Details are provided by Jeff Cope below:

From: Jeff Cope at

Starting September 16, TXwine Twitter Tuesdays will be held bi-monthly, that’s every two months, so be sure to watch for when the next one will be. They will normally be held the second Tuesday of the month and that will be the same most of the time, but may change some months like this month.

This month’s #TXwine Twitter Tuesday which will be held on Tuesday, September 16. This month we will be celebrating the Texas wines which were served at the 10th anniversary of TEXSOM this past August.

This will make it easy for everybody to find a wine to enjoy and discuss during the chat since many Texas wineries participated at TEXSOM. The wineries participating were:

Bending Branch Winery
Brennan Vineyards
Duchman Family Winery
Hye Meadow Winery
Kerrville Hills Winery
McPherson Cellars
Messina Hof
Pedernales Cellars
Spicewood Vineyards
William Chris Vineyards

The other change for Twitter Tuesdays are additional hosts besides Denise Clarke, Jeff Cope, and Jessica Dupuy. Back to join Twitter Tuesday is Russell Kane ( and joining the hosting ranks is Daniel Kelada. Certain Twitter Tuesdays will have specific hosts and for this month’s Twitter Tuesday, Denise and Jessica will be hosting.

Join us for the September #TXwine Twitter Tuesday on September 16th from 7-8 p.m. CST. Grab your favorite wine from one of the wineries above and we look forward to seeing you for a night of tasting and tweeting.

Please remember to include #TXwine in your tweets so everyone participating in the chat can see your tweets!


Denise, Jeff, Jessica, Russ, and Daniel (look for @DeniseClarkeTX, @TXWineLover, @JDewps, @VintageTexas, @txwinejournal)

Additional Details:

NOTE: If you are new to Twitter, here’s how you participate: just sign up for a free Twitter account at You can also go to the TweetChat room set up for #TXwine ( No registration is required; you can login using your Twitter account info. In the TweetChat room, participants are invited to follow tweets, add comments or tasting notes and share thoughts as participants taste and discuss the wines.

Another Twitter chat website which works well is:

On TweetChat and TChat the hashtag #TXwine will automatically be added.

If you are using TweetDeck or another Twitter application, you will need to add #TXwine to your tweets.

 Posted by at 3:28 pm
Sep 042014


Last Saturday, I made the run up to Comanche from Fredericksburg to participate in Brennan Vineyards premier Library Tasting. In the middle of the Labor Day weekend, the traffic was light, the air humid and clouds well formed above.

Pat Brennan, welcomed the group and acknowledged his winery’s 10 years in operation. He gave thanks that his winery now had the resources (and ten years of wine) to hold this tasting. Also part of the wine presentation were Rebecca Connelly now involved in the winery’s marketing and Todd Webster with five years as Brennan’s winemaker.

Pat Brennan admitted that when he and his wife Trelise bought the old 19th century stone house (now the winery’s tasting room), some adjoining property (now their vineyard) and a tractor they didn’t have any agricultural experience. They didn’t think of doing anything other than growing grapes, especially not making wines. It is amazing to see what ten years, a few enology classes and a friend named Tiberia could do. We were all gathered in the Brennan Vineyards Austin Houston to taste the fruits (and wines) of Doc Brennan’s vision and labor.

The two grape varieties tasted were first Viognier and then Cabernet Sauvignon. Brennan said, “I’d heard that Viognier was a great doing well in Texas. The one from Becker Vineyards was first one I tasted. I liked it and we decided to plant it followed by Syrah and Cabernet.”

The vintages of Brennan Viognier we tasted were 2005 through 2007 and then from 2009 through 2011. The differences of vintage and winery treatment (oaked or not) were apparent. According to Brennan, “The 2006 was the result of great growing conditions that year. This wine was the winner of the Houston Rodeo’s Best Texas Wine.” It was still tasting very well in 2014 too with nuances of apricots and Meyer lemons.

The 2010 Viognier was one of my favorites in the flight. It was a prolific vintage year. Todd Webster said, “I went back to the 2006 Viognier formula that Pat Brennan had with some new oak and a little Semillon in the blend.”

The second half of the tasting focused on Brennan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brennan said, “Notice the date of the first wine. It is a 2003 Cabernet that I made before the winery opened and befoer was legally able to sell wine. Back then, I hadn’t thought of making wine (only sell grapes). However, I met Lawrence Tiberia from Barking Rocks Winery while taking wine classes at Grayson College. He brought down his winemaking equipment and set it up in my garage. That was the point where I knew, we were going to open a winery. It gave me the bug to make wine not just grow grapes.”

The 2003 (non-commercial) Brennan Cabernet was inspirational both in terms of its solid characteristics, but also the story that it told of the future of Brennan Vineyards. The next wine was the 2006 Cabernet that Brennan again recalled that it came from a great year all around for grapes in Texas.

The comparison of the Cabernets and the evolution in the Brennan Vineyards winemaking style was perhaps even more predominant than for the Viognier. 2008 brought out aromatics that were enhanced with oak and bottle aging. 2010 lead to changes in how they determined harvesting parameters and incorporated the use of winery techniques like delestage. Theses combined to optimize the ripeness and flavor profile of the wine. In the following years they made adjustments with American and French oak aging and blending with other grape varieties.

The evolution of Brennan Vineyards Cabernet seemed to culminate in its 2010 Reserve Cabernet that again from a season that I believe many years from now people will call Texas’s “Vintage of the Century”. The wine was deeper in color, richer in flavor and texture with more new American oak used to infuse a spicy character into the wine.

It was a wonderful afternoon, well spent as we delved into the evolution of winemaking at Brennan Vineyards.

 Posted by at 2:33 pm
Aug 302014

As August wains, I need to say my final goodbyes to this year’s Texsom. The new acquaintances, visits with old friend and, oh yes, the education happened and went far to quickly.

After ten years, the “little” sommelier conference that James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks believed could fill an important industry need has. There are far more advanced and master sommeliers in Texas than there were ten years ago. But more importantly, there are many more “in the system” studying, taking certifications and basically taking their career in wine far more seriously than they would have without Texsom. While statistics are not available on this, it appears to me that there are more and younger sommeliers involved than every before in Texas. Texsom should be credited as being the leader that has made this happen.

All this happened in ten years, but it wasn’t without challenges and doubts between the organizers. At this year’s Grand Tasting and best sommelier award presentation James Tidwell said, “There was a point after about three years after the start where Texsom was still ‘upside-down’ with respect to covering its costs with my employer (the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort).”

It took some serious thinking at that point. But, James and Drew continued and slowly and steadily made progress. From my point of few, it all came together about three or four years ago. It was obvious that Texsom had become a national event for sommeliers and others in the wine trade. This year’s overall attendance for all seminars, tastings, associated courses and competition approached one thousand people.

From the standpoint of Texas wines, Texsom has helped bring them into the national limelight. Many out-of-staters have received their first of Texas wine right here at Texsom. Furthermore, the current relationship between Texsom and the Dallas Morning News wine competition, has added further credibility to Texas wineries that we medals with their wines in the competition.

I’m saddened that Texas 2014 is now over, but I look forward to 2015 when Drew, James and their sommeliers in training, open their tent again for all to attend.


 Posted by at 9:45 am
Aug 112014

Texsom 2014: What You Can Learn about Texas Wine in the Germany Today Session

German wines have always been a fascination for me. I’ve been to Germany many times and have friends that have poured some pretty darn good German wines into me. This has left me will some strong bonds with fine Germans, fine German wines and lots of good memories.

Besides good memories, German wines are notable to me for their intimidation factor. To start with, the wine laws and labels in Germany appear to have been developed by the same guys that wrote the users manual for my BMW: Complicated.

So, every time I have the chance to taste German wines with experts such as Tim Gaiser MS and Laura Williamson MS like at this year’s Texsom, I grab the opportunity to taste and enjoy the brisk, minerally and flavorful qualities of the wine. I also look to the experts to decipher the code of German wines, their grape varieties, their labels and (oh yes) their quality system laws.

Interestingly enough the vast majority of German wines are now made dry. This is despite the fact that most people, if you ask them, will tell you: “I don’t drink German wines because they’re all sweet.” But, now this is where German wine laws start to read like my BMW manual. The Germans have a handful of classifications that relate to dryness of the wines. Do you mean dry or do you mean really dry, or perhaps only somewhat dry. Yikes!

You know, this thing about sweet German wines is essentially the same thing that I still hear while I travel around Texas. One major excuse people make for not drinking Texas wines is sweetness. A lot of these people say, “I don’t drink Texas wine because their all sweet.” That’s plain wrong! But, you can’t win by arguing with them.

While practically every Texas winery does have a sweet wine or two, the vast majority of Texas wines are made dry.

The important take away from the German Today Session at Texsom 2014 was not to let the preconception of consumers block the way to acceptance of a regions wines; whether it is Germany or Texas.

The important step is to get the wine in the glass and let the consumer taste it for him/herself. If the wine is well made, representative, suits the consumer and leaves them with a pleasant (maybe unexpected) experience. If it does, then the rest will follow.

I know that this is an old adage, but Germany (and Texas) will get it’s new converts one at a time. The good thing about Texsom is that they can be lined up and converted one by one by one by one, and so forth!


 Posted by at 6:13 pm
Aug 102014



Texsom 2014: Sommeliers Get Beyond the Big Three

The @ItalianWineGuy, Alfonso Cevola moderated an interesting tasting panel this morning at Texsom 2014. It had to be one of the most diverse sessions by far at this years conference. It included bubbles from New Mexico, a bracing cuvée from Michigan, counter currents of Michigan and New York Rieslings, Mediterranean-heritaged red wines (Sangiovese and Tempranillo) from Texas, and a (non-vinifera) Norton from America’s heartland, Missouri.

Cevola reminded the participants in his tasting session, “It was only 30 years ago when the “Big Three” of American wine (California, Washington and Oregon) were a new phenomenon, just like the “Beyond the Big Three” wines are today.”

At one point, we were only a few words short of a major encounter between Paul Lukacs and Guy Stout MS when Paul said that the best domestic Viognier he’s found is from Virginia. Guy bristled and retorted that Texas has some pretty darn good Viognier juice, too.

No matter if we couldn’t agree which state brought the best wine to this tasting, there appeared to be universal agreement on the fact that these local wines were on the cutting edge of diversity. Cevola said, “These wines could infuse an interesting new diversity to wine lists.”

Cevola’s reference was aimed directly at restaurant wine lists that are far too long on the same group of Chardonnays and Cabernets (five of which taste pretty much the same). In contrast, local wines from around the United States have interesting nuances that offer new experiences for wine drinkers. All of the panelists agreed that it’s high time that sommeliers realize that local wines can bring an exciting new element to their wine lists.


Guy Stout MS

After his first hand account of his battle with the Raccoons in his Texas hill country vineyard, Guy Stout MS, presented two Texas wines. The first was Duchman Family Winery Sangiovese (single vineyard designated from Reddy Vineyards), Texas High Plains AVA. The second was Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo, Texas High Plains. Neither was heavily extracted or high in alcohol, but brought a minerally character that shined through the tart berry character of the wines. These are the terrior-driven wines that are now the calling card for Texas that will remain in future years.

I think that panelist, Wayne Bending MW summed it up best when he said, “Rather than trying to find obscure wine regions in Eastern Europe, restaurant sommeliers would be better served to look to obscure region right here in America. They have a lot to offer.”


 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Aug 092014

Drew Hendricks MS and James Tidwell MS: Founders of TEXSOM

Texsom 2014: Ten Years Old and Thanks to These Guys

We all have these guys (Drew Hendricks and Jame Tidwell) to thank them for creating what is today…TEXSOM!

It started small and grew from it’s humble roots ten years ago to the preeminent position it has today. Many consider TEXSOM (held at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort) the best wine beverage symposium and educational experience around. According to Hendricks (quoted previously my lubbockonline column), “It all started with just a few people at the first symposium, but every year the conference has grown. This year will be the biggest ever with several hundred people attending, looking for a chance to taste with the best and learn.”

TEXSOM 2014 is impressive with 23 Seminars taught by 39 Master Sommeliers, 10 Certified Wine Educators, 6 Masters of Wine. There are 8 certification opportunities offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Education Trust and Specialty Tea Institute, 25 Texas Sommeliers Competing in the Texas Monthly Texas’ Best Sommelier Competition.

Tomorrow night Texas Fine Wine will co-host with Texas Monthly a Hospitality Suite for TEXSOM participants. Texas Fine Wine represents four distinguished and award winning Texas wineries: Bending Branch Winery, Pedernales Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Duchman Family Winery.


But wait, there’s more. Over 200 wines will be available for tasting and evaluation at the Monday evening Wine and Food Foundation of Texas Grand Tasting.

We are partying tonight, but will be getting down to the “work” sessions tomorrow.

I’ve signed up for three tasting sessions tomorrow including:

  • Beyond the Big Three: Exciting Regions of the U.S. Beyond the West Coast (Texas has to be in this one!)
  • A History of Napa Valley
  • Pathways to Blind Tasting

On Monday, I have three more, including:

At the end of the day on Monday, it’s the Grand Tasting with wine from around the world and our home state of Texas, proudly poured side-by-side for all to taste.

You may think that this is all just for fun, but TEXSOM is seriously about education and it has helped to bring respectability to the Texas wine scene.

 Posted by at 11:25 pm
Aug 072014


A Texas Winemaker with a New Mission and Wine: Brock Estes, DANK, Johnny Rojo, a starter wine without training wheels!

If you don’t know Brock Estes, it might be hard for you to make a sentence with these three words in it: Fly Gap, Dank and wine. But, if you get to know Brock Estes and his winemaking/winegrowing associates in Mason County, you’d have no problem doing it. You’ll have the opportunity to meet-up with Brock and try some of his Fly Gap Winery DANK, Johnny Rojo (a red blend wine) this Saturday at Sandstone Cellars (details below). But, why take the trouble to travel to Mason for a wine release?

Well, according to Brock, “Johnny Rojo is a wine that I feel will get a lot of non-wine drinkers into wine; actually, excited about wine and trying other wines, as well.”

Having just tried this wine, all I can say is, Johnny Rojo’s not anything like the slightly sweet, pink and sometimes sparkling wines (think, insipid) that introduced me to wine when I first explored wine drinking in the early 1970s. Johnny Rojo, first off and with emphasis, I can say, it is a serious wine. If he considers it an introductory wine, then I’d call it a starter wine without training wheels!

Brock continued, “It’s a kitchen sink, fusion blend that is fruit forward and well balanced.  Not too complex, just really simple and really smooth and good.  It’s an easy drinking (red) wine, and should be a real crowd pleaser.”

Brock’s lingo (e.g. kitchen sink, fusion blend) is similar to Mason County winemaking brethren like Don Pullum who I’m sure has had an influence. However, Brock has reached out to Texas winemaking leader, Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars, Lubbock Texas) to help him craft this wine and also to put together a group of wines that speak to Brock’s personal winemaking mission. According to Brock, “My goal is to steer younger or less established wine drinkers onto increasingly more serious wines by offerings beyond Johnny Rojo.” Continue reading »

 Posted by at 1:24 pm
Aug 052014

Dan McLaughlin at Robert Clay Vineyards

My Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay from Robert Clay Vineyards

It was in the dead of winter when I met Dan McLaughlin for the first time at Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas. I had seen a Facebook posting or two from his Robert Clay Vineyards, but not much more. That evening was spent mainly watching Texas consultant winemaker (and reality cooking show star) Don Pullum’s debut on the ABC Series, The Taste.

Near the end of the evening, I started talking to Dan and the word “Texas” and “Chardonnay” came up in one of his comments. In quick response, I said glibly, “That’s something that I wish Texas winemakers would do less of. To me, Good Chardonnay is like a Texas oxymoron.” Before I knew it, Dan hauled me over to the bar and asked someone to find the last bottle of Pilot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. As I found out shortly thereafter, his interest in this wine was because the grapes were grown in his Mason County vineyard.

After also requesting a handful of glasses, Dan poured out the golden liquid and waited for my taste and reaction. It came quick and with an expletive when I said, “Damn it Dan, this wine is good!” It was in a medium bodied style and had a moderate dose of oak.

Ever since that evening, I’ve had to temper back my thoughts on Texas Chardonnay. Now I say that it’s not something that you can depend on being good every year or from every vineyard site, or something on which you would base you winery’s business. But, if the year brings it, definitely savor it and enjoy it.

Fast forward to last month…

I get an email from Dan advising that his 2014 Chardonnay is about ready for harvest and things are looking very good. I asked him how he knew they were so good. Dan replied, “You can taste it in the grapes.”


To make a long story short, after gaining Dan’s permission, I stopped out to Robert Clay Vineyards this past Saturday. According to Dan, he and friends harvested half of his crop of Chardonnay the night before and it was destined for this year’s Pinot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. The other half was to be harvested shortly and going to be headed to Compass Rose Cellars. This left me time to see if what Dan was saying about his Chardonnay grapes was true – possibly 2014 was another opportunity year for Texas Chardonnay.

When I arrived, the prior night’s activity was plain to see from my position at the gate. The hand made “Park Here” sign was still up, there were a few up-ended plastic chairs and several rows of stripped naked Chardonnay vines to my left I as drove into the center of the front vineyard block.

After I stopped, I walked out into the rows of remaining Chardonnay until I found a few clusters to my liking. I had enough to fill a plastic cup to take back to the car….my afternoon Cup O’ Chardonnay.


Well, I will have to admit that the grapes were fine: ripe but not overripe, the seeds were mostly brown and crunchy. To me, these grapes would make a quite nice, lighter-styled Chardonnay perhaps with the ability to take just a light hit of oak (French would be interesting) and make a respectable wine. The second harvest would likely be even riper and make an even sturdier wine, if that is to your liking.

But, only time will tell. The wines need to be made, aged and bottled. In the meantime, I’m left with the memory of an afternoon delight with my Dan McLaughlin Robert Clay Vineyards Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay.


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 Posted by at 10:15 pm